Best of the west
Blackdown Hills West Country Eggs delivers fresh quality free-range eggs, with a strong commitment to the local area and consumer demands
With its brand very much centred around the West Country, family owned Blackdown Hills Eggs has been operating within the UK free-range market since 2003 after the Cottey family decided to exit the dairy and beef industry. Taking advantage of the increasing consumer popularity of free-range eggs, the company decided to open its own packing centre in 2012 and since then has established itself as a strong supplier of free-range eggs to the retail, wholesale and foodservice industries in southwest England.
Outlining the current market conditions, general manager, Nigel Williams, explains: “Free-range eggs are very popular at the moment, and because of this the big retailers are dropping the prices to attract customers into stores. However, there is a lot of growth in the market with the retailers being very aggressive with the products, so it’s a very competitive market.” As a result of these market pressures, the company has to make sure its products exceed on quality and meet expectations to remain competitive.
One of the ways it does this, Nigel continues, is to focus on the branding. “The fact that we’re a local business and that all our eggs are West Country eggs is a particular strength for us. We very much base the business on that. They’re good quality, West Country eggs, which is very much supported by consumers wanting to know where their food comes from.” Exemplifying this, the company is a regular recipient of the Taste of the West award, a locally recognised mark of excellence. “It’s a good stamp of quality for people in the West Country,” notes Nigel.
The site at Buckland St Mary in Somerset is well set up to support the growing demand for free-range eggs in the region. The packing centre is a bespoke, state-of-the-art facility with a modern MOBA grading machine, which ensures every egg meets the exacting standards demanded by both the company itself and the wider industry. With the ability to grade and pack up to a million eggs a day, the company prides itself from getting eggs from the farm, packed and delivered within a day making sure exceptional freshness is served to the consumer. All eggs are also marked according to maintaining 100 per cent traceability right back to the individual hen shed.
The farm itself is home to 30,000 of its own hens, and additional demand is filled by a number of contracts set up with other local producers. The farm works closely with the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group to deliver the best living conditions to its birds giving them spacious roaming areas with tree shelter, a healthy diet and the greatest freedom. All of which lead the company to being RSPCA, Freedom Foods and BRC accredited. Enhancing the company’s commitment to responsibility is its approach to sustainability, running a number of initiatives to protect the surrounding environment. Planting over 6000 trees not only improves the hen’s living conditions, but also provides chipping to power the biomass boiler that generates power to the packing operations. All hen sheds have solar panels attached to roof generating power to the shed themselves, and rainwater harvesting supplies water to be used across the farm in a range of ways.
Standing testament not only to the quality provided by Blackdown Hills but also its ability to supply demand is its relationship with supermarket, Aldi. “We supply a large volume to Aldi in the southwest with their free-range eggs, so it’s an extremely important contract for us,” says Nigel, and it is this presence within the major retail market, which the company hopes to explore in the future. “We want to increase our penetration into the retail sector,” he continues. “We’re in the discount sector at the moment, but we’d also like to expand on that by entering into the multiple and convenience markets. We also see a niche opportunity in golden yolk and organic eggs – there are things you can do with eggs to premiumise them. However, the core of the business will always be our quality free-range egg offering.”
To supplement this plan, the company’s long-term strategy is simple: “The strategic vision is to get more producers working with us, that’s always going to be where the growth comes from,” Nigel says. “You can only grow as fast as you’ve got eggs coming in, so one of our main aims is to encourage more producers to work with Blackdown Hills eggs.” With a brand centring around the local area and a strong commitment to quality and freshness the company is in a strong position to secure its future, Nigel concludes by expressing his ultimate aim for the company: “The brand is built around the West Country, and we would like to be known as the preferred ‘West Country Free Range egg packer’.”